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Arkansas Trooper Alters Story to Clinton's Benefit

Inquiry: President's co-defendant in suit contradicts earlier account, says Jones instigated hotel meeting.

March 21, 1998|WILLIAM C. REMPEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton's co-defendant in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit, Arkansas State Trooper Danny Ferguson, drastically altered key elements of his eyewitness accounts in a way that made them significantly more favorable to the president, according to a review of recently released court documents.

In interviews in 1993, Ferguson said that he arranged the disputed encounter between the governor and Jones in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel suite at Clinton's request. However, in a sworn deposition last December the former state bodyguard testified that it was Jones, not Clinton, who instigated the meeting by asking to be introduced to the governor.

In the same deposition, Ferguson also contradicted his prior statements about Clinton's offers of federal jobs to him and a second trooper who were among a group of troopers then threatening to disclose details of their experiences with Clinton.

While Ferguson's new version of events better fit the Clinton defense, they may also open the trooper to the same harsh examination of motives and contradictory statements that have confronted Clinton's accusers and critics.

It was Ferguson's original account of Clinton's 1991 encounter with Jones--markedly similar stories that he provided separately to both The Times and to the American Spectator magazine--that precipitated Jones' lawsuit.

An account of Ferguson's original version was published by the American Spectator in December 1993, identifying Jones simply as "Paula." After that story appeared, suggesting that the woman involved was a willing participant in a sexual encounter, Jones filed suit against Clinton, charging him with sexual harassment, and Ferguson, accusing him of violating her civil rights.

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The Times, which published its own "Troopergate" story based in part on interviews with Ferguson and other state troopers, did not include any references to the alleged Clinton-Jones meeting in its account. However, Ferguson discussed the matter in detail during interviews that began in August 1993.

According to Ferguson's original version, Clinton initiated a flirtatious exchange with Jones that ended with an invitation to his room. Ferguson said the incident started in the lobby of the hotel when "Clinton sent me over to tell her she [Jones] has that come-hither look."

Ferguson told The Times that he thereafter arranged for Clinton to get a suite at the hotel using what the trooper portrayed as the ruse of an anticipated White House phone call. Ferguson himself arranged the matter with a hotel employee and took Clinton upstairs.

Then, according to Ferguson's original version of events, "Clinton sent me down" to tell Jones how to find him.

About 30 minutes later, Ferguson said originally, Jones came back downstairs "straightening her dress" and allegedly told the trooper that "I'll be there any time" if Clinton wanted a girlfriend.

By contrast, in his deposition Ferguson testified that Jones first asked to be introduced to Clinton and said she wanted the trooper to tell the governor she thought he was "good-looking, had sexy hair."

Ferguson testified that he relayed such a message to Clinton and pointed out Jones across the lobby, prompting Clinton's response: "She's got that come-hither look."

His testimony differed further, characterizing Clinton's request for a hotel room as a legitimate business need.

While Ferguson has remained consistent in recalling Jones' response to her meeting with Clinton as excited and happy, his versions diverged again in recounting Clinton's response afterward.

In his sworn testimony Ferguson said Clinton's only comment was, "She came up here, and nothing happened."

By contrast, in 1993 Ferguson told The Times that Clinton said: "I couldn't do anything, so we just talked." Ferguson, who said he thought the governor and Jones had consensual sex, told the story to demonstrate what he characterized as Clinton's way of telling little white lies, even to his bodyguards.

The Times, in its original Troopergate stories, reported that Clinton contacted Ferguson and offered federal jobs to him and one of the three other troopers who were talking to reporters about their experiences escorting Clinton to meetings with women. In one telephone interview, the trooper said he received multiple telephone calls from the president in October 1993, including three in a single day.

"This was the first phone call," Ferguson explained, according to a transcript of that conversation. "He [Clinton] asked me, he said, 'Dan, would you like to have a job? Would you like to come to D.C.?' "

Ferguson said he declined because he had not served enough time as a state trooper to qualify for better pension benefits and because he had young children. However, he recalled that Clinton persisted.

"He said, 'Well, there is going to be a regional job open up [with the Federal Emergency Management Administration]'. . . . He didn't specify a city. He said, 'Or there is a U.S. marshal's job open.'

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